A correction, sort of: LA has had 2 females in district leadership roles
Mike Szymanski | August 20, 2015
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In recent stories about LA Unified’s search for a new superintendent to replace the soon-to-be-departing Ramon Cortines, we reported that no female has led the school district, drawing attention to the possibility that board President Steve Zimmer and his colleagues might want to make a little history in their next hire.
That conclusion arose from a district-provided list of superintendents from 1937, all of whom were men.
But anyone perusing the wall of photographs in the LAUSD School Board auditorium would notice two women among the past district leaders.
From 1880 to 1881, C.B. Jones, a woman, was Superintendent of Public Schools, and from 1920 to 1929, Susan Miller Dorsey served as superintendent of Los Angeles City Schools, according to board minutes found at the Online Archive of California.
Neither woman represented all the schools in the Los Angeles area at one time. What is now the second largest school district in the country as LA Unified was once divided into many distinct clusters of districts. The Los Angeles City School District, formed Sept. 19, 1853 was in charge of Kindergarten through 8th grades. The Los Angeles City High School District, formed in 1890, was specifically for 9th through 12th grades.
It wasn’t until July 1, 1961 that these two districts and many others merged and became LAUSD. Since that time, no female has ever run the district as superintendent.
That doesn’t discount the services of these past female leaders. Dorsey stood in as interim superintendent when her predecessor, Dr. Albert Shiels, decided to help out with the war effort of WWI. After he created Home Economics and Manual Training for the schools, he resigned and left the school system in Dorsey’s hands. She has a school named after her.
Among many other things she accomplished, in 1924, Dorsey asked that children who wished to contribute to a memorial for the late president Warren G. Harding limit their contributions to no more than 10 cents so they wouldn’t burden families too much with charity.
The stern-looking “Mrs. C.B. Jones” remains more of a mystery, and even the LAUSD communications office hasn’t been able to discover her full first name. It was noted by some press reports at the time that she held an unusual position for a woman.
She was replaced by a Professor James M. Guinn in 1881 and became principal of Public High School in Los Angeles. A report in The Pacific School and Home Journal at the time said that Jones “performed her duties of her office in a highly acceptable manner.” (Society pages at the time say her name was “Chloe.”)
Anyway, the bottom line is that LA School Report erred in saying no woman has served as superintendent of LA Unified, even though that’s technically accurate. More precisely, no woman has ever led LA Unified since it was formed in 1961.
And so we acknowledge the educational accomplishments of Susan M. Dorsey and C.B. Jones, whatever their titles were at the time.